It’s all about turning what’s ordinary into divine: Taking an everyday, ordinary woman and a plain, ordinary piece of dough, setting them both apart and making them holy. A set-apart woman has the ability to release holiness into the world each and every Shabbat by making dough.
When a Hebrew woman prays over her Challah, her prayers flow up to the Most High like a sweet parfum and incense. She prays for her family. She prays for her people. She prays for the world . . .
The Hebrew word chol means ordinary, and it is the root word of Challah. Challah does not mean bread, dough, or anything like that. Challah represents the “ordinary” and signifies the separation between the holy and the mundane. When making bread, Challah is when we take that little ordinary piece of dough and separate it (as a first-fruit portion) with prayer, and throw it into the fire and burn it as a sweet smoke, a gift, unto the Most High, just as we are commanded to do.
Everything begins at home. A wise woman will build up her house with wisdom and understanding for she knows YAH blesses the homes of the righteous. The home is the sanctuary and baking bread, as in Vayikra (Leviticus) 24:5-7 . . . every Shabbat it is set out in order before the Most High continually, it is from the children of Israel an everlasting covenant. It is customary to make two loaves (not twelve) in memory of the double portion of miraculous manna that was food to us while in the wilderness
Speak unto the children of Israel . . . When you enter into the land wither I bring you then it shall be, that, when you eat of the bread of the land, ye shall set apart a portion for a gift unto YAH. Of the first of your dough you shall set apart a cake for a gift, as that which is set apart of the threshing floor, so shall ye set it apart. Of the first of your dough, ye shall give unto YAH a portion, for a gift throughout your generations.DEVARIM (NUMBERS) 15:18-21
Actually, everything in the world is kodesh (holy). Even our ordinary lives have a holy source. Many of us have been de-sensitized, caught-up, distracted by the plights of the world and stuck in a rut from the mundane of everyday life. We can easily fool ourselves into believeing life is a mindless existence. But look around, Beauty (yes, you!). The world is full of wonder and surprise. (We all are.) YAH is here! He is our source!
So, what does this all have to do with a loaf of bread? Well, as long as the soul stays in the body, there is life. In order to live we have to eat. Bread (Lechem) is the Staff of Life. Bread is what keeps the body. The word of the Most High sustains the soul. YAH is the source of our souls, our bodies . . . YAH is our Beit Lechem . . . our House of Bread. So, you see, a set apart woman has the power to elevate the world by connecting with the source.
I love making dough, kneading and pressing my hands to it, pounding and punching it down with my fists, rolling it between my hands and fingers, setting it aside to rise, then punching and beating it down again . . . separating it . . . forming a heavenly loaf and setting it aside to rise, yet again before firing up the oven.
And no, I don’t have a Challah recipe for you. Unlike once presumed, I don’t believe anyone has “the recipe” for Challah. Other than a basic bread dough, there is no given mandate of ingredient and presentation, but there are all kinds of variations (i.e., Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Middle Eastern, etc.). Interestingly, I have read in commentary, the manna that fell from the heavens was light, coriander seed wafers with honey—but it tasted how each person desired it to taste. Quite angelic.
From a Hebrew, Afro-Asiatic perspective, I believe Challah is unique to the woman who bakes the bread. It is her essence. It is her set apart gift to the Creator. There is no cookie-cutter recipe that defines the way the bread should crumble for any of us.
Your Challah should be filled with your love, a dash of your personality, a stir of your beauty, and a mold of your prayers. Imagine all Hebrew women around the world, to the four corners of the earth, during the soul of the week, bread-making. We can experience this miracle week after week, making Challah and sending up prayers, breaking bread, bonding the physical and the spiritual, and seizing the opportunity to bring change to the world . . . for all nations will be blessed through us.
For I have received from HaMashiach that thing which I handed to you, that Yahushua, in that night in which he was betrayed, took bread, And he blessed and he broke and he said, “Take eat; this is my body, which is broken for your persons; thus you shall do for my Memorial.QORINTIYM RISHON (I CORITHIANS) 11:23-24
HOLLA’ FOR CHALLAH
When my children were young and at home, I would bake Challah and breads from all around the world. It has been years . . . so many years gone by. Today, I go over to my daughter’s house (my little Matriarch) and sit and chat with her while she works up a miracle in her kitchen, baking breads and all kinds of foody eccentrics. She often enjoys a glass of wine as she wields her blessings upon my palette.
At first taste, I’m usually the one exclaiming—“Oh my goodness, Pretty! What did you put in it this time?! It tastes so good!” And to my holla’, she usually replies, “Oh! I don’t remember—I forgot!” At that, we fall out laughing together, enjoying a sweet bread that might not ever taste exactly the same, again. My daughter . . . she is so full of wonder and surprise!
Well, I guess it’s about time for all of us to stir up a little smoke of gratitude in our ovens for YAH, as Shavuot, our season of gladness, is upon us. May the two grains and five fruits (wheat, barley, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives, and dates) find their way into your bread-loaf this Shabbat!